Answer: Absolutely not.
The NBA’s Western Conference remains the NFL to the East’s Arena League, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than the good doctor Hibbert to make the Lake Show a contender again. That said, the Lakers may surprise some people and have added more than enough talent to guarantee that the Sixers finally get to cash in that lottery pick that Lance Blanks earned for tricking Mitch Kupchak into paying a defective Steve Nash nearly $30 million. If nothing else, they should be a whole lot more entertaining to watch than the Carlos Boozer led 2014-2015 version.
For the third year in a row, LA’s other NBA team whiffed in free agency. They took a shot at LaMarcus “The Marcus” Aldridge, and Kobe ruined it. They made a bizarre attempt to make a deal for Boogie with George Karl, who did not and does not have the authority to trade him and, I assume, Kobe ruined that too. The Lakers clearly thought they were getting one or both of those guys, as it’s the only way the decision to pass on Jahlil Okafor for D’Angelo “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” Russell (of the 1:2 assist to turnover ratio in summer league) makes any sense. Presumably, the Lakers took shots at a myriad of other free agents, which Kobe also ruined, be it through action, inaction, or mere presence.
As a result of Kupchak’s ineptitude, the Lakers have adopted the “bunch of chuckers and a guy that can rebound” model of team building. It’s a variation on the model used by the Sixers in the late 90s early 2000s that helped AI drag the worst supporting cast ever to the make the Finals to be sacrificed at the altar of the Big Aristotle in 2001. On that team, The Answer was the only guy allowed to dribble the basketball, and the rest of the squad was there to defend, chase down boards, and pass the ball to Allen on the rare occasions it somehow slipped his grasp.
The Lakers have put themselves in a position to run the same kind of show, but with the role of AI being played by committee. To understand how this works, we need to first forget about Julius Randle and Untitled. I have my doubts about Russell, though I think Randle might turn into a decent player, but we’ve clearly reached the point where guys are getting drafted so young that only generational talents like D-Rose, KD and the King are likely to have a meaningful impact in their rookie seasons.
This leaves the Lakers with three legitimate offensive options – Kobe, Swaggy P, and the newly acquired Sweet Lou Williams. What do these three have in common? They’re top choice, grade A chuckers. Bean is one of the best 20 or so players ever to lace them up, and probably a top five all-time scorer. In fairness, the jury is still out on how the Mamba will recover from his achilles tear in 2013. Prior to the injury, Kobe looked like an ageless wonder, logging big minutes and performing at a clip comparable to to 2009 and 2010 Championship runs. Since then, however, his body has taken a beating, he’s aged two years (Kobe will turn 37 in August – an old 37 given his NBA debut at age 18). We’ve seen only 41 games since the injury, but the 35 we saw last season were not pretty. Kobe seems to continue to believe that he is good enough to be justified in putting it up every time he touches the rock, but appears to no longer have the game to back it up. 2014-2015 saw him put up over 20 shots per game (above his career average), but shoot below 40% for the first time in his career. Speculation abounded that we were seeing a player more interested in catching MJ on the all-time scoring list than winning. It may be that Kobe is now fully recovered, or that the Lakers have brought in enough talent to interest Kobe in chasing Ws again, but if those trends continue, look out for another depressing season from an all-time great well past his best before date.
If those disturbing trends continue, Kobe will fit in well with Swaggy and his new teammate Sweet Lou. While Swaggy’s field goal attempts per game lag behind Kobe’s, this appears to be the product of fewer minutes rather than a more conservative approach to the offensive end of the game. Last year, Swaggy took 17.1 shots per 36 minutes, compared to Kobe’s 21.3 and shot 36.6% to Kobe’s 37.3%. Reigning sixth man of the year Sweet Lou follows closely behind Swaggy at 16.6 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, just squeaking over the 40% mark to shoot 40.4% for the year for the Raptors.
If each of these three players keeps up these rates, they alone will take 55 shots every 36 minutes. If we extrapolate that to a 48 minute game, those three players would be taking 73 shots per game for the Lakers, an alarming number considering that Boston led the NBA with 87.9 FGA per game last season. The Lakers took 85.6 shots per game – leaving 12.6 for the other nine members of the squad to share. When we take into account that those three players are likely getting very few shots off of offensive rebounds, and very few finishes off of dump offs, it becomes pretty clear what a shockingly high proportion of the Lakers offense these three could occupy.
On the surface, this could appear to be a recipe for disaster, when we look at the other roster moves the Lakers have made this off-season, however, we start to see some hints of brilliance – or at least coherence – seeping in. In the abstract, 12.6 shot attempts for nine players seems unworkably low, but when we look at who those players will actually be, it starts to make a little more sense.
The Lakers other two “big” offseason acquisitions were Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass. Dr. Hibbert has always been a solid rebounder and good rim protector. He’s also a surprisingly proficient free throw shooter. What he is not, and never has been, is an offensive contributor – at least in the sense of creating offense. This Lakers team may be the perfect place for the good doctor. He can defend and rebound and, unlike in Indiana, where they wanted him to put the round thing in the hoop, Kobe will probably cut the bitch if he so much as looks at the basket on offense.
Brandon Bass, who should play the bulk of the power forward minutes over Randle, is a similar player – good rebounder, good defender, not a particularly proficient scorer, and not someone that needs to create his own shot to be effective.
If we assume Jordan Clarkson just does what Kobe tells him to (pass Kobe the ball), this model may be surprisingly effective. With three perimeter players that can create their own shots more or less at will, and two posts that will be content to defend and chase after all of Kobe, Swaggy and Sweet Lou’s misses, the Lakers may have enough talent and size in the right mix to stay competitive in a lot of games.
While the odds of the Lakers being a factor this season remain slim, as anyone who saw J.R. Smith drop seven bombs against the Bucks in Round One, or Nate Robinson put up 23 against the Nets in 2013 knows, when they’re on, guys like these can be a lot of fun to watch and not entirely ineffective.
Speaking of J.R. – if the Lakers want to go all in on this, he’s still looking for a contract…